Monthly Archives: November 2010

Gratitude Revisited

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As this is the week of Thanksgiving, it seems apropos to revisit the important topic of gratitude.

I believe that gratitude is one of the critical ingredients for happiness!  When we are grateful for what we have, we are better able to live in the moment and enjoy our lives.

The Glass is Half Full!

No matter how many troubles we have at a given point in time, we can always find aspects of our lives that we appreciate and enjoy.   This “glass half-full” type of attitude can help us to embrace what’s right in our lives instead of lament that which we feel is wrong.

Some “Greatest Hits”

As this is a holiday week (and hence, there is more to do in less time…) and I have written quite a bit on the topic of gratitude in the past, I have decided to highlight a few of my past posts instead of creating all new content for this week.  The three posts which I have chosen to revisit all focus on the ever important topic of gratitude.  Please see the post summaries below and click on the post title to view that post in its entirety.

I hope you enjoy some of my favorite past posts.  As usual, your comments are welcomed!  I wish you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s been said that the biggest key to happiness is gratitude, and I believe it’s true!  When we are present to all that is wonderful in our lives, it’s difficult to feel depressed and despondent.  In this post, I outline a few simple yet powerful practices to help us stay present to the many blessings in our lives.

As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on what is missing instead of on what is present.  This post focuses on a concept introduced by author Dennis Prager in his book, “Happiness is a Serious Problem.”  I present an overview of the concept of the “missing tile syndrome,” as well as the three main ways for dealing with it.

This post was written at the halfway point of my year-long quest to heal my health and my life.  Since beginning “The Healing Project” on February 3, 2010, I have gained a number of powerful insights about myself and about life.  I summarized my insights in four categories:  gratitude, attitude, hope, and healing.  I expand upon each of these items and commit to continuing my healing project and sharing even more wins related to health, relationships and success moving forward.

Our Secret Addictions

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Top SecretI don’t really like the word “addiction” because it carries with it a sense of being completely out of control or even victim to a particular type of behavior.  I think this attitude is a big part of why I never stuck with the 12-step programs I attended for both my eating disorders and codependent behavior. I couldn’t get past the first step, which is “I admit that I am powerless over my addiction and my life has become unmanageable.”  While I was more than willing to cop to having an unmanageable life, confessing to powerlessness was just something I could never do.  I guess I’m just too much of a control freak!

Do What Works!

It is not my intent to either criticize or advocate the 12-step philosophy.  I know that AA and associated programs have helped a lot of people over the years and very likely could have helped me as well had I steadfastly adhered to the steps.  My best advice is always to do what works, and what works can vary for any of us as time goes by.  My current choice is to follow Louise Hay’s advice and philosophy outlined in “You Can Heal Your Life.”  Louise addresses the concept of addictions in detail in both her book and the corresponding companion book.

This post outlines Louise Hay’s philosophies on addictions, as well as some of the advice she gives for releasing addictive behavior.  I also share some secrets regarding one of my compulsive behaviors and the insights I gained from completing the Chapter 6 exercises on addictions in the “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book.”

Louise Hay on Addictions

Louise Hay believes that addictive behavior is another way of saying, “I’m not good enough.”  When we engage in compulsive actions, we are trying to run away from both our uncomfortable feelings and ourselves.  Some feelings we have are so painful that we do not want to look at them, so we drink, abuse drugs, overeat, gamble, spend too much money, or any number of other actions which serve to numb our feelings and allow us to escape from reality.

Louise believes that the first step to overcoming what we’ve termed addictions is to acknowledge that there is a need in us to engage in these self-destructive actions.   In order to stop the compulsive behavior, we have to release the need which is underlying it.

Fearful and “Not Good Enough”

According to Louise Hay, the addictive personality is generally a very fearful one.  People who are consumed by their compulsive behaviors tend to be highly fearful of letting go and trusting the process of life (“control freaks,” anyone?).  They often believe that the world is an unsafe place full of people and situations that are just waiting to create stress and pain in their lives.  They also tend to be highly critical and unforgiving toward themselves and may even suffer from acute self-hatred.

People who suffer from addictions never feel that who they are and what they do is “good enough,” so they punish themselves day after day.  The addictions are a way of both punishing themselves and suppressing uncomfortable feelings and memories.  The addiction becomes “the problem” and the person may focus all of his or her energy on that instead of looking at the underlying issues, which are most often related to a lack of self-love and self-approval.

Keys to Releasing Addictions

As with all problems that people experience in life, Louise Hay believes that loving and approving of oneself are the keys in releasing addictions.  Also critical is learning to trust both yourself and the process of life.  Of course, these things are easier said than done, but that is the reason for “You Can Heal Your Life” and The Healing Project.  It isn’t easy to release addictions and heal our lives, but it IS possible!

The exercises in Chapter 6 of the YCHYL Companion Book provide a good starting point for examining the beliefs and attitudes which underlie compulsive behaviors.  One of the exercises asks us to list ten secrets that we’ve never shared with anyone regarding our addiction.  The objective is to look at our very worst actions and to be able to love the person who did those things.

My Secret Addictive Behavior re: Shopping

The main compulsive behavior in which I engage at this point in my life is shopping and overspending.  I realize that this behavior is compulsive because I often feel ashamed and remorseful for my actions.  Many of my actions are secretive and manipulative.  My husband has entrusted me with managing the household finances, so my subterfuge is not all that difficult. However, since the goal of my “healing project” is to heal myself and my life, I want to overcome my compulsive shopping “addiction.”

In the service of that goal, I will share a few of the secrets I listed in the exercise described above.  I realize that I may be harshly judged for my behavior, but I am a big believer in the notion that “the truth shall set you free.”

  • I hide new clothes and put them away when my husband isn’t around.
  • I use “creative accounting” to make it look like I’ve spent less money.  I put clothing and accessory purchases in other “buckets,” such as gifts, beauty, and household.
  • I change the dates of purchases so that it won’t look like I’ve spent too much money in any given month.
  • I use store credit cards (and sometimes even open new accounts) so that the bills won’t come until later.  I know I will have to “face the music” later, but at least I’m able to get my “fix” in the moment.
  • Sometimes I buy something for myself along with a gift for someone else and account for the entire purchase under “gifts.”
  • I buy things to get the thrill in the moment and later return them so that I can shop some more (this is a more recent behavior but is happening a lot).

Insights and Forgiveness

Although I am embarrassed to reveal some of my secrets regarding shopping, it feels liberating to be open and honest with my readers.  Now that I look at my secrets again, I realize that they are not that bad.  I am able to follow Louise Hay’s advice to look into the mirror and tell myself, “I forgive you, and I love you exactly as you are.”  I may not fully mean what I am saying just yet, but the important thing is that I want to mean it.

Beating myself up for my past actions doesn’t solve anything and only serves to make me feel worse, which may lead me to compulsively spend more money.  It is far more productive to face the music, forgive myself, make amends where needed, and commit to loving myself more and doing better in the future.

Some Final Words from Louise

We don’t have to keep punishing ourselves for our past wrongs, either real or imagined.  Holding on to the past only hurts us because we are not living in the moment and experiencing all of the good things which life has to offer.  The past is over and cannot be changed!   By reliving the past, we strengthen our emotional attachment to it and punish ourselves today for what cannot be undone.  As we let go of the past, we then become free to use all of our mental power to enjoy today and create a bright future for ourselves.

I close with a few powerful affirmations from Louise Hay on the topic of addictions:

  • “I am willing to release the need for ______ in my life.  I release it now and trust in the process of life to meet my needs.”
  • “No matter what the past may have been, now in this moment I choose to eliminate all negative self-talk and to love and approve of myself.”
  • “No person, place or thing has any power over me.  I am free.”

Sins of the Past

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Woman in deep thoughtYou’re probably familiar with the expression, “my past came back to haunt me,” and you likely have some personal examples related to this phrase.  While it is always good to live in the present and embrace “the power of now,” do we ever fully escape our pasts?  Can we truly be free of our mistakes and poor behavior of years gone by?

This post will focus on our so-called “sins of the past” and how they affect our lives in the present time.  I will relate personal examples pertaining to my past relationships and physical health, and do my best to provide useful insights and suggestions for letting go of regrets and repercussions from the past.

Reminiscing… Or Not?

A few months ago, I wrote about going through boxes of old mementoes in preparation for moving and vacating our storage unit.    These boxes included old cards and letters from many years ago (as long as 20-30 years back!) that I hadn’t looked at in a very long time.  While I found it both interesting and exciting to look back and reminisce, the process also illuminated some personal history that was surprising and painful to remember.

While I consider myself a compassionate and thoughtful person today, I haven’t always been so kind.  In fact, I treated some significant people in my life very poorly in years past.  I wasn’t malicious or evil by any means, but I was driven by fear and selfishness.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I suffered from depression and eating disorders for the bigger part of a quarter century, beginning in my early teens.  During that time, I was extremely self-absorbed and far more concerned with my own wants and needs than those of others.  I often had a negative attitude and I allowed my bad moods to affect those closest to me.  Suffice it to say, I wasn’t always a “picnic” to be around.

We Can’t Turn Back the Clock

As I’ve matured and taken more responsibility for my own happiness, I have become increasingly more considerate toward those around me.  Although I sometimes wish I could turn back the clock and treat my past close ones with more honor and respect, I know this is not possible.  I know I have to let go of the lingering guilt and move on, especially in regards to those to whom making amends is impossible due to either death or disconnection.

Health Hazards

My past sins also extend to the way in which I treated my body and health.  For many years, I starved myself, over-exercised, purged, and engaged in other harmful behaviors.  I pursued thinness relentlessly without much thought to how it would affect my current or future health.  When I finally emerged from my long battle with eating disorders in my mid-thirties, I believed that I was relatively unscathed in terms of my health.  Sure, I had experienced various digestive complaints over the years, but I thought those would surely subside with better eating and lifestyle habits.

Fast-forward to the present time…  My digestive tract is a mess and I’ve recently had to drastically change my eating habits in the hope of managing my conditions without lifelong medication.  I’ve suffered from migraine headaches for twenty five years and I’ve endured a variety of other physical complaints that have caused me a great deal of distress.  I am beginning to wonder to what degree my past “health sins” are responsible for the current state of affairs.

Hindsight is 20/20

As the old saying goes, “If I had it to do over again, I would do it all differently.”  Of course I would, as would many of you if you could be young again knowing what you know now.  Unfortunately, we can’t do that, so we need to make peace with the past and forgive ourselves.  But how do we do that? That’s the $64,000 question!

I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I have learned a few things along the way.  I’ve learned that beating myself up because I used to abuse my body and my loved ones hasn’t helped me to feel better.  On the contrary, my self-flagellation has only served to make me feel worse about myself and my life.  I’ve learned to ask myself whether or not a particular line of thinking is serving me.  If the answer is no, I do my best to consciously shift to a more productive thought pattern.

Finding the Lessons from Pain

One thing I’ve found helpful is to search for the lessons I can take from past experiences.  Gaining awareness and self-knowledge from painful memories can create alternate meaning beyond the regret and heartache. It can be helpful to either journal about the lesson or discuss it with a caring friend or family member (or a therapist).  It can also be fulfilling to share lessons learned with the young people in our lives, with the hope of potentially sparing them from pain.

The Perils of Self-Pity

It can be compelling to feel sorry for ourselves when we are going through challenging times.  The drive to ask “Why me?” is common, but it is not helpful.  When I had a serious recurrence of my digestive issues two months ago, I became angry, especially when I read that I didn’t fit the common profile for this disorder.  I considered myself unlucky and lamented my misfortune.  However, that train of thought only pushed me further into despair.  It quickly became obvious that I needed to pull myself from the abyss and face my challenges head on.

Blaming ourselves or feeling sorry for ourselves isn’t useful.  I’ve had to forgive myself for the ways in which I mistreated others and myself during my earlier years.  While it’s true that I may be physically ill today as a result of my misguided actions of yesteryear, I had no way of knowing I was causing myself lasting damage.  Sometimes the “whys” of given situations are immaterial.  The most important question we can ask is, “What now?”  This question puts us in the driver’s seat and propels us to take action to move us to a better and more empowered place.

We Are All Products of Our Pasts

We all have our “sins of the past,” but our past history and what we’ve learned from it is what has made us who we are today.  We are each a product of our past, sins and all.  I am happy to say that I like the person I am now, and I know that my current challenges will bring more lessons and only serve to make me stronger in the future.

I am gradually forgiving myself for the past and learning to live in the present moment, the space where all of our power exists.  All we have is the here and now, and what’s done is done.  Let’s learn what we can from the past and then let it go so that we can create a compelling and empowered future for ourselves!

Don’t Be a Debbie Downer!

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Gloomy looking womanHave you ever heard of the term, “Debbie Downer”?  This term, based upon a fictional “Saturday Night Live” character, refers to a person who is frequently negative and complaining, thus bringing down the mood of everyone around her.  Sadly, I have to admit that I can be this person at times, and since my name is Debbie, that makes it even worse!

I don’t mean to complain a lot, but there are times when I catch myself spouting out all kinds of negativity.  At least I catch myself more often these days, but I am still dismayed when I realize I am whining and complaining.  My husband gets the worst of it, and this normally very tolerant man has been known to lose his patience with me on occasion.  Yesterday was one of those times, which is what has prompted me to write this post.   I will look at why we complain, when it’s okay, and how to reform our tendency to gripe and moan.

Why We Complain

Why do we complain?  Often it stems from a need to vent our frustration and feel “heard” by others.  We want to be validated for our pain and aggravation, and sometimes we feel better after we get things off our chests.  We’ve all heard the saying, “misery loves company,” and when we complain to others, we often find people jumping on the bandwagon to add their own grievances to the mix.  But do we really feel better when others share in our disgruntled state?

Sometimes we complain because we’re looking for solutions.  In my opinion, that may be the only time when complaining is really okay.  If the person to whom we’re complaining is in a position of power to change the situation, that’s a best-case scenario.  Unfortunately, however, the people to whom we gripe often have no influence over our circumstances and can do little more than helplessly listen to our complaints.  I’ve known some wise souls who have cut habitual whiners off at the pass by simply suggesting, “Why don’t you tell this to someone who can actually do something about it.”  At the very least, that sentiment might make the whiner think twice before complaining to that person the next time around.

People Want to Help

The people who are closest to us want to help us.  They want to see us happy and doing well in life.  If we come to them with a legitimate problem and ask for their help in solving it, they will generally do their best to help us find tangible and reasonable solutions.  However, if we don’t heed their advice and keep coming back to them with the same problem over and over again, they may lose patience with us. We may wear out our welcome with them, no matter how much they love us.

We need to temper our impulse to go to our friends and family with problems on a regular basis.  Our close relationships should be based upon much more than a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on, although those elements are both desirable and important.   We need to strive for balance in our relationships and ensure that the enjoyable experiences outnumber the trying times as much as possible.  If you think back to your last five encounters with a given loved one and remember complaining to them on more than two occasions, perhaps it’s time to inject a bit more fun into that relationship!  Resolve to either cry on someone else’s shoulder or heed some of the advice you received from a prior confidante.

Taking Advantage?

I often complain too much to my husband because I don’t have many other people in whom to confide.  When I go to him with problems, I feel that I am genuinely looking for solutions, but I have to admit that I often don’t take the good advice he gives me.  I go back to him hoping for different answers instead of first giving one of his useful tips a try.  When I do this, I’m not being fair to him.  I’m taking advantage of his good nature and his love and concern for me. Doesn’t he deserve to have a happy wife instead of one who whines and complains about the same things ad nauseum?

Moral Obligation to Act Happy

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager would say so.  For close to fifteen years, he’s dedicated one of his fifteen weekly broadcast hours to the topic of happiness (he has also written an excellent book on the topic called “Happiness is a Serious Problem”).  Prager asserts that we have a moral obligation to act happy, even when we don’t feel happy.  He believes that happy people make the world a better place while unhappy people contribute to the ills of society.

While one may assume that Prager is advocating inauthenticity with his prescription to act happy, that is far from the truth.  Rather, he values honesty and clarity in interpersonal relationships and believes that we should be open with our intimates about our life challenges.  However, those topics should not dominate our interactions with loved ones by any means.  We owe it to the people who love us to work on cultivating a happy disposition and to overcome our tendency to focus on the negative aspects of life. We should always endeavor to act as happy as possible and we will often be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves feeling more upbeat as a result.

Breaking the Complaining Habit

So how do we break the habit of complaining?  It is helpful to consider the distinction between actions and reactions here.  Often we simply react to situations in our lives without any consideration.  This is the proverbial stimulus-response chain which is cultivated through social conditioning, much like the salivation of Pavlov’s dog upon hearing a bell ring.   But there is another way!

As human beings, we can and should involve our powerful intellect instead of merely acting upon instinct.  It is helpful to take a breath and pause before responding.  During this brief time-out, it is helpful to consider the following related to complaining:

  • Is the person to whom I’m speaking in a position of power to change the situation?
  • Is what I’m about to say constructive?
  • What type of response am I looking for here?  Do I want advice, or am I merely looking to get something off my chest?
  • What is the ultimate result I’m wanting in this situation?

If you simply want to “vent,” I suggest that you either write in a journal about your feelings or set a time limit for your complaining (e.g. “I can vent for 5 minutes, and then I will work on solutions”).  If what you are considering saying will not be constructive, perhaps you should consider not verbalizing it at all.  It’s entirely possible that both you and your companion would be better served by conversing on a more pleasant topic!

Remember the “Law of Attraction”

In closing, it is helpful to remember the Law of Attraction in regards to complaining.  Simply stated, this “law” states that like attracts like.  In other words, when we focus upon something, we attract more of it into our lives.  Focusing on the negative will only serve to attract more negative, and none of us want that!  Instead of looking at what’s wrong or lacking, I suggest you heed the advice given by Michael Losier in “Law of Attraction.”  Ask yourself, “So what do I want?” Then focus on what you need to do to create that result.  Easier said than done, it’s true, but much more productive and sanity-producing than complaining!